Interview: Debbie Harry, Blondie

Blondie says goodbye with greatest hits tour

After a career broken by a lengthy period of retirement, Blondie are finally calling it a day again, with a farewell tour that includes several dates in Japan. Originally part of the 1970s New York punk scene, the six-piece, fronted by the iconic singer Debbie Harry, became one of the bands that defined the New Wave movement of the late 70s and early 80s.

While New Wave music kept much of the edge and attitude of punk, it was less angry and more musically sophisticated. Debbie Harry's cool, emotionally detached singing style, along with the band's musical innovation, epitomized the characteristics of New Wave music in the late 70s and early 80s.
"We will be remembered as being the forerunners of girl fronted rock bands," Harry comments by email on the band's enduring legacy. "We also broke with tradition by doing several crossover songs that blended rap, reggae, and disco into our music."
While hits like Hanging on the Telephone and Heart of Glass imaginatively mixed punk attitude with throbbing disco beats, their greatest crossover achievement was undoubtedly the 1980 single Rapture, a one-off blending of rock, rap, and funk. The song’s hip-hop influences, including a lengthy rap in the middle by Harry, helped to lift rap from a street cult into a mainstream media phenomenon.

While their music has plenty of melodic and stylistic hooks, Blondie will always be remembered for their visual hook – five skinny guys dressed in black, fronted by a cool sexy blonde with cheekbones to die for. Although Chris Stein, the group's leader, and Kraftwerk-influenced keyboard player Jimmy Destri had a greater creative input, it was Harry who dominated the band's public profile.

At the beginning, many people assumed that she actually was Blondie. This isn't too far from the truth. Originally called Angel and the Snake the band changed its name to Blondie because truck drivers routinely called out "Hey Blondie" at Harry as they drove by.

As the group became famous following their eponymous debut album in 1976, it was also Harry who monopolized media attention and became the main focus for fans. But, intent on defending the band's legacy as serious musicians, Harry wishes to attribute the band's success to other factors than her once stunning good looks.
"I think it was a combination of tenacity, creativity and good luck that made us a success," she answers. "You really struggle when you first start out and we worked very hard to get where we are now."
The group's initial retirement from the music business in 1982 was due to bad reviews of their album The Hunter, combined with tensions between band members and health problems. Stein, suffering from the auto-immune disease pemphigus vulgari, was nursed by Harry for several years until he largely recovered, as she put her own career on hold.

In the 1990s, with a new generation of bands, including Elastica and Blur, acknowledging their influence, the main band members decided to make a comeback. Reforming in 1998, they enjoyed moderate success with the albums No Exit (1999) and The Curse of Blondie (2003). So, why have the band decided to call it a day a second time? The most obvious reason is that at 61 Harry finds it increasingly difficult to live up to the 'blonde bombshell' image that people will forever associate with the band.

The ex-Playboy bunny girl also feels that the band has already achieved all that it can, and has finally received its proper recognition.
"The band was just inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame here in the US," she points out. "It seemed like a good time to go out with that honor."
Another factor is the contemporary music scene, which Harry sees in a very positive light.
"There is so much wonderful music out there now," she enthuses. "It's very diverse and that makes it exciting. It used to be about what took place before and re-living the past, instead of the present or future."
Ironically, these concerts will be one last chance for fans to relive some of the greatest hits of a bygone era.

C.B. Liddell
International Herald Tribune/ Asahi Shimbun
1st September, 2006

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